Wired for Great Sound, Just Not for Convenience

Making a consumer recommendation on a video game is rather simple: new ones typically cost $60, so the question is whether the thing is worth that. Hardware and peripherals are a bit trickier as a manufacturer can pile on features and conveniences, jacking up the price but, inevitably, making a recommendable luxury.

Truth is, not everyone has $250 for a top-of-the-line pair of headphones and it's a bit arrogant to assume they do. A lot of gamers looking for a headset are not looking to spend that kind of jing. Having been in that boat before, I know I was looking for reliability and compatibility. The Rocketfish Universal Wired Headset, which works on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC/Mac provides both.

The tradeoff with this $69.99 headset (available from Best Buy) is that it is wired. A wireless version does exist, for $20 more, but we reviewed this version to try to steer this back from gadget porn into the realm of a useful recommendation. Wireless headsets, at the lower price ranges, also are susceptible to pop, interference and other static, and if there's any advantage a wire provides, it is straight-up quality audio. And you get it here, for sure.

The over-the-ear fit is snug and comfortable and pipes in plenty enough volume to blot out your surroundings and focus you in on the action. Maxing out the volume and the bass is advisable only for those hard of hearing or wishing to become so. This thing supplies plenty of oomph, even more when you enable the SRS "3D Sound" feature which, basically, makes everything sound bigger and closer. Turning it off flattens out the audio; I'd just leave it engaged all the time.

That's key because your audio jack piggybacks to the audio component cables of a PS3 or an Xbox 360. (In the case of an HDMI connection, it's best if your television has a headphone-out jack. Otherwise, you'll need to use the 360's HDMI audio adapter to get it out of the machine. For an HDMI-enabled PS3 you will need to connect the audio component cables to the television and then enable audio multi-output from the sound settings menu in the XMB.) As I run my consoles into a signal switcher, I piggybacked to the switcher's audio into the TV. Usually, I get a ton of background hum doing that, but the convenience is I don't have to swap the thing between consoles. SRS cut down on the hum noticeably. In Dashboard is where you hear it most, as games typically have enough background sound to wipe it out even when you're paused.

Wired for Great Sound, Just Not for ConvenienceS
The headset's control dongle has controls for bass boost, SRS "3D Audio" and chat/game audio balance. I don't recommend maxxing out the volume or the bass; the Rocketfish supplies plenty of kick as it is.

The unit's control dongle features a bass dial that I don't recommend maxing out—it will give you plenty of oomph about three quarters of the way up. There is a single mixer dial that governs the balance of game audio to chat audio. All the way down (as you wear the unit) and it's game only; all the way up and it's chat only. Those I gamed with said they could hear me just fine, with no distortion when I got excited, and I'm a close-talker.

But for this kind of reliability you can expect to sacrifice some ergonomic convenience. In the case of the Xbox 360, you're talking about an umbilical with no fewer than four connections—headset to the control unit, controller to control unit (for chat), control unit to audio source, and control unit to console USB. Putting down the headset to get up for a drink or to take a leak required some untangling upon return.

The USB connection is to power the thing, which I discovered trying to use it solely with my television audio. This isn't Rocketfish's fault, but plugging a USB device into the Xbox 360 is a stupidly hamfisted effort. In the case of the PS3, if you have a Move camera and you're charging a second controller (or using a USB keyboard) that means something has to be swapped out. Finding out my wireless 360 controller needed a charge, I plugged that in while I played; not only did that increase background hum (especially when the audio was 100 percent chat) it made me feel like I was trapped in the Matrix.

'Wired' means what it says. Expect to untangle yourself when you get up to go the bathroom.

One other drawback was, especially when switching connections and sometimes when powering on for the first time, the control unit's indicator light was red and I had no audio. Usually plugging and unplugging the connection to the headset was enough to get it back in line; muting and unmuting the mic seemed to solve problems there, but it can be frustrating to those who don't know what's going on and how to fix it.

In the final analysis, the Rocketfish Universal Wired Headset is a straight-shooting value whose drawbacks are plainly stated in the title: It's wired. You're gonna be best off when you get into a single gaming position and stay there for a while. (By no means would I recommend it for PlayStation Move shooters.) If you don't want the tangle, get the wireless version, which is $20 more. Its adaptability makes it useful for power users with more than one platform, but they should either have a headphone jack on their TV or another means of piggybacking to audio from a single point.

But, going back to my original point, it's a piece of hardware more in line with the price of a new game and, yes, it's worth the money for the deep sound and its compatibility, if you can cope with the inconvenience and tangle of its wiring.

You can buy the Rocketfish Universal Wired Headset for $69.99 from Best Buy